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Using pre-existing variation in beak morphology to reduce pecking damage in laying hens

2021 CPRF
Beak shape differs between bird species because each species has evolved a specific shape to fit their diet and environmental niche. In chickens, the beak appears to be the perfect shape to grasp and pull feathers and body tissue, leading to serious welfare concerns such as severe feather pecking (SFP). There has been an increased focus on selective breeding against SFP but incorporating meaningful behaviour data into a breeding program can be challenging. Therefore, quantifiable outcomes such as plumage cover, mortality, and beak shape are measured. Considerable variation in beak shape exists within non-beak treated layer flocks and beak shape appears to be heritable. This offers the possibility of using this pre-existing variation and selecting hens whose beaks shapes are less apt to cause damage during SFP. With the goal of improving the chances of successfully housing non-beak treated laying hens by guiding selective breeding practices that account for optimised beak shapes, the objectives of this PhD project are to determine the phenotypic shape variation that exists for both the external beak and its underlying bones in pure line laying hens, identify quantitative trait loci that underlie beak shape, and determine which beak shapes are optimal for reducing SFP-related injuries.
Tags :
beak morphology,pecking damage
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PhD Student

University of Edinburgh

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